[OPE-L:5276] how is SNLT measured?

From: Gerald_A_Levy (Gerald_A_Levy@msn.com)
Date: Wed Mar 28 2001 - 09:37:28 EST

As we know, it is only *socially-necessary-labor
time* (SNLT), i.e. abstract labor, that creates 

How is SNLT measured?

Can it be simply measured with a stopwatch using
standard units of time, i.e. weeks, hours, minutes, 
seconds,  fractions of a second, etc.?  I think not.

To explain just *one problem* now with this
measurement of SNLT: as we know "the time
spent in production counts only in so far as it
is socially necessary for the production of a use-
value" (Vol 1, Penguin ed., p. 303). This, Marx
writes, has "various consequences."  One such
consequence is that the labour-power must be
of "normal effectiveness": "In the trade in which
it is being employed, it must possess the average
skill, dexterity and speed prevalent in that trade,
and our capitalist must take care to buy labour-
power of such normal quality. It must be expended
with the average amount of exertion and the usual
degree of intensity; and the capitalist is as careful 
to see that this is done, as he is to ensure that the
workmen are not idle for a single moment. He has
bought the use of the labour-power for a definite 
period, and he insists on his rights. He has no
intention of being robbed" (Ibid).

Of course, the capitalist has no intention of being
robbed. But that is rather besides the point, isn't

The presumption above is that there tends to be
an average intensity of labor established in any
trade. Is this the case?  It must be *tautologically
true* that there is an "average" even if it is difficult --
or impossible! -- to measure.

How would you go about "timing" the average?
What has to be remembered is that one can not 
time abstract labour, one can only time how long
it takes for individual workers to perform specific 
tasks. Thus, with Taylorism, one can time different
workers performing the same job. However, with
the division of labor, individual workers do not
in general perform exactly the same job (i.e.
set of tasks).  Rather, specialization results in 
workers, say on an assembly line, performing
different tasks.  How then does one gauge the 
"speed" of the worker?  If all workers had the 
same physiology and metabolism (which, of
course, they don't) then one might be able to
use a proxy like a timing of the heartbeat (pulse).

When we consider the matter *regionally and
internationally*, we can observe a *very* wide
range in terms of the intensity of labor both
within the same branch of production and in
different branches of production.  This is a matter
that is well known to many trade unionists: i.e.
even if they can't directly calculate SNLT, they
*know* that the intensity of labor is greater (or
lesser) at different plants, in different regions, and
in different countries.  Indeed, I can verify from
personal experience that the intensity of labor
can vary very significantly at: a) plants operated
by different capitalist firms in close geographic 
proximity to each other (e.g. a Ford and a GM
assembly plant located about 10 miles away from each other on the same road -- Rt. 1 in NJ);
b) at plants operated by the same company in the
same nation and/or region (e.g. the GMAD plants 
in Linden and Tarrytown); and c) even in the SAME
plant (and indeed, most workers at an individual
plant often know for which jobs the intensity of
labor is lower and, consequently, which jobs are
more "desirable" for that reason). When one 
compares the intensity of labor in different 
capitalist nations (with, consequently, *different
cultures and histories of class struggle*) then the
presumption that there is a standard (as distinct
from average) intensity of labor internationally
becomes untenable. 

That being the case: how can SNLT be measured?

Who has a solution for the "SNLT problem"?  If
one were to say that SNLT is, and can only be,
measured by money (the value-form position),
then this would be one solution. Do others agree
with *that* solution or do they see problems with it?
If, on the other hand, one views abstract labour 
*only* in terms of the physiological expenditure of 
labor time, then I don't think one has come to terms with the importance of *socially necessary* labor time.

In solidarity, Jerry

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